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Zombieland – Review

Zombieland – Review

Jan 14, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Ruben Fleischer, 2009
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While most horror-comedies tend to be parodies like the ever-declining-in-quality family tree of Young Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein begat Student Bodies which begat Scary Movie which begat Stan Helsing), the better horror comedies are simply horror films that happen to be funny.  They may lampoon the sillier conventions of the genre, but those laughs are accompanied by attempts to simultaneously stay true to the genre’s conventions and motifs.  Ghostbusters does this, as do Gremlins and Shaun of the Dead.  As much as the two films have been compared, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland isn’t Shaun of the Dead, or Young Frankenstein for that matter.  It isn’t a parody, but it also isn’t much of a horror film.  That isn’t to say that the film is bad.  I had a pretty good time in the theater.  There are just too many instances where the horror is diluted beyond recognition for the film to appeal as a horror film.

The film begins after the zombie plague has already wiped out America and, presumably, the rest of the world.  This particular apocalypse is explained, with a couple of throwaway lines, to have been caused by a mutation of Mad Cow Disease.  It’s as good an explanation as any, and I’m glad the film doesn’t waste too much time on the early days of the outbreak.  We get voice-over from the start, provided by a character we will come to know as Columbus.  He is a nerdy college student who has survived the zombie holocaust by following a strict set of rules of his own creation.  We learn these rules in clever flashback scenes that illustrate the logic behind each rule.

Before long, Columbus meets up with Tallahassee, a violent but funny loner who is much angrier about and at the zombies than is Columbus.  The pair travel together having amusing adventures until they run into two sisters—Wichita and Little Rock.  After a bit of conflict, the group teams up and makes its way toward Little Rock’s dream destination—Pacific Palisades, an amusement park that is rumored to be “zombie-free.”

The foursome has a lot of fun, especially considering they are among the final handful of people alive on the globe.  A standout scene involves demolishing a roadside souvenir store to the tune of classical music in a scene reminiscent of the home invasion scene in A Clockwork Orange.

Until the last few scenes of the film, it never seems like any of the main characters are in any real danger.  This lack of real threat is one reason the film doesn’t feel like a horror film. Fear is a key element of horror and there never seems to be much of it in Zombieland.  In fact, Columbus is openly mocked for his lack of bravado in taking on zombies, a trait that has kept him alive when billions of people haven’t quite managed it.

The lack of real fear is accompanied by a lack of real scares. That second part is easy to explain.  Zombieland has a lot of self-referential elements: the aforementioned voice overs, on-screen Zombie Kill of the Week ribbons, freeze frames, slow motion.  All of these impede on the viewer’s ability to suspend his disbelief.  There are very few points in Zombieland when it is possible to get lost in the events.  We are constantly reminded that this is just a film. Under those circumstances, it is nearly impossible to manage a scare or even much of a jolt.

The non-horror moments fair much better.  The film displays some genuine emotion in Columbus’s attempt to outgrow the outsider personality instilled in him by distant parents, in Wichita’s desire to give Little Rock back some of the childhood she has lost, and, most poignantly in the story behind Tallahassee’s anger and recklessness in the face of the zombies.  Add an unrealistic but still kind of touching romance between Columbus and Wichita and you get a film that has a solid emotional core.

As a horror film, Zombieland isn’t an unmitigated success or a complete failure.  The horror set pieces are handled well.  There are some great kills.  Blood flows.  Still, the film doesn’t feel like a horror film with coming-of-age movie elements, it feels like a coming-of-age comedy seen through a horror film filter.  It doesn’t mock the genre.  It simply uses the genre in a supporting role.  How much you enjoy the film as a horror fan will come down to how much that fact bothers you.

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3 comments

  1. Very nice review. Enjoyed it, but not as much as I did Zombieland. Loved that movie.

  2. Rennie /

    I went into Zombieland with the expectation of not being scared. I never considered this to be a true horror movie. Just seems like a comedy-adventure to me.

  3. Heather /

    This isn’t supposed to be a horror film…it is a comedy. And the fact that you are reminded it is a movie is part of it’s charm. I don’t think you would see it as unsuccessful if you weren’t expecting a horror movie. It’s like eating a piece of cheese and saying it was unsuccessful at being a strawberry.

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